These next few verses wind up being breeding ground for lots of contention. Some have inappropriately used these verses to show that Jacob was “saved” and Esau “damned to hell”. It seems to me that this ignores Paul’s argument at this stage of his defense of the righteousness of God: that being, God’s Word stands and now, why it stands.
Paul has us look at Rebekah and Isaac’s situation (Gen 25:21-26). Here she is finally pregnant, and God be praised, with fraternal twins! The question about God’s Promise comes up: do they split Abraham’s inheritance? What if one of them is wicked or one of them careless…how will God’s Word stand if these men are faulty?
It doesn’t matter. It’s not by a person’s works that God’s Word stands, but him choosing to implement a plan then actively working them out. His plans come to fruition because He acts on them.
In this case, after Rebekah wonders what’s going to happen with her pregnancy because these two babies are struggling inside, God tells her that she has two nations, indeed two distinct peoples, within her womb (Gen 25:23). This doesn’t lesson the problem with God’s Word now it increases it: will Abraham’s blessing be spread out over two distinct peoples and nations? How will this still apply to Abraham with two disparate nations?
God continues to say that one of these nations will be stronger than the other and yet the nation that comes from the older sibling will serve the nation that comes from the younger sibling. God specified that the blessing given by His Word to Abraham would continue through Jacob. Jacob gets the blessing and rules over Esau.
Now, when we get to Jacob and Esau’s life we see obvious evidence that is (seemingly) contrary to God’s Word. The only time we see Esau personally weaker than Jacob is when he came in famished from hunting and sold his birthright (Gen 25:29-34). Other than that the man was a skilled hunter while Jacob remained in the tent learning how to cook. In their recorded life span we never see Esau serving Jacob. On the contrary, we see Jacob sending loads of gifts to Jacob and at one time bowing several times before his older brother (Gen 32-33).
So what was God talking about? Has His Word failed? Paul brackets off the whole history of Israel by looking to Malachi’s writings some thirteen hundred years later. Malachi (penning God’s words) answers Israel’s stupid question, “How have You loved us?” with, “Jacob, I have loved but Esau I have hated”. Who, personal Jacob and personal Esau? Personal Israel who refers to himself as “us” when asking this question? Personal Esau with his mountains made desolate and his inheritance appointed for jackals who refers to himself as “we”? The plural here demands that the names refer to the nation and not the persons.
The question (in regards to God’s Word of promise) was would the nation that comes of Esau be put under subjection to the nation that comes of Jacob?
As the Scriptures unfold we see two distinct people from Jacob and Esau, namely Israel and Edom. These two groups are adamantly against each other. The evils perpetrated by the Edomites were repeatedly condemned in the Scriptures and destruction upon that nation was promised and fulfilled. One Edomite we all remember from Scripture stood before a silent Jesus demanding some entertainment. The Lord ignored him.
So was there injustice with God that He loved the nation of Israel over the nation of Edom? No, God had already stated that the older would serve the younger and so it would be…yet as the years went on Edom proved himself as a people to be adamantly opposed to God and His people. So much so that the prophets were given to pen a healthy amount of judgments against that nation. In Israel we have a stiff-necked people who were also often opposed to God and God set up a healthy amount of judgments to them too. Both nations existed for hundreds of years, God patiently showing mercy to both but in the end he decided to put an end to Edom and show mercy to Israel for a season…no matter how stiff-necked they were (Deut 9:6-7).
Does that mean that all of Israel was eternally saved and went to heaven while all of Edom was damned and sent to hell? No, it means that God said “okay, enough Edom” and said “Israel, you get another chance.”
As the Creator and as Sovereign Lord he has reserved the right to show mercy and compassion on whomever he wishes to. In Israel and Edom’s case we see two nations, both of them opposed to God throughout much of their history. The difference is that God chose to work through Israel to bring about His Word. This choice didn’t make Israel “good” (history shows that) nor did it make Edom “damned” because he willingly embraced the violence and the deportations of the Israeli people. They were both messed up nations but God was going to bring about His promise through one of them, despite their origins, works or desires.
So God’s Word stands because He chooses to intervene and also reserves the right to decide despite the actions or inactions of men. He reserves the right to show mercy and compassion as sovereign Creator and evidenced as much in the fact that He loved Israel the nation (despite their actions or desires) over Edom (despite their actions or desires).
Next we’ll consider this mercy and God’s righteousness and see how the two work together.